I just returned from our wonderful Pitseng Centre. This jewel in the middle of nowhere helps over 3,000 villagers of all ages feel a sense of belonging, love, fun and learning every year. In June, it will be ten years since the opening. I so clearly remember the construction phase – it was brutal. The property was re-claimed from a section of a cornfield on donated land from the Anglican Diocese of Lesotho with funds passionately raised by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association of Ottawa. Every time I go there, I wish each one of the 14,000 teachers who contributed from their salaries could see it – they would be so happy. Each time, I feel grateful for the people who annually support the activities that go on there – for young mothers, grannies, little ones, students, and out-of-school youth. It is the most wonderful place! Our centre supervisor, ‘M’e Thoala is doing a fabulous job.
As I continue to visit various programs, meet with staff, write funding proposals, and review activities and plans, I am struck again by how many people it takes to provide this kind of compassionate, effective programming to over 15,000 people every year. We have been so blessed to have Shadrack Mutembei as our country director for the past seven years, providing continuity, passionate and compassionate leadership and strong financial oversight. The administrative structures and processes required to implement and account for such intensive and extensive programming is often overlooked in reporting our work and impact.
We employ a large, totally Basotho staff, building capacity at all levels. We create so many jobs but also offer our staff – many of whom join us in their twenties – a chance to deal with all this pain and to develop the professional skills they need to become independent, confident, and happy. When I think back over the years to how many interns and staff we have trained – who have moved on to populate other organizations with their ethical, gender-committed values, it helps me to realize that our cumulative impact on this country reaches ever further and wider. We have developed some of the finest program facilitators in the country – admired and often poached by the much larger international development agencies in the country.
Because of the high degree of psychological insight and expertise required to deliver our programs, we have really struggled to hire people from other organizations who meet these standards. Our solution has been to develop our own feeder system. Our most intensive leadership program (Leadership in Training – LIT) has become an effective mechanism for selecting the best and brightest for our two-year Professional Internship Program. We have two months during the program to watch these young people, most of whom have some or have graduated from post-secondary education who meet our highest selection criteria. These young people have addressed their staggering grief and loss, had the time and support to heal their own wounds before they attempt to help others, and understand key issues in personal responsibility. They have examined gender-based issues from multiple perspectives, including personal behavioural choices and biases. They know the power, purpose and responsibility they have to help their communities and their country – and the skills to do it.
I have seen these fine young people weep with abandon as they face the powerful and debilitating hurt poverty and injustice has wreaked in their lives – and then grow in confidence and experience as they practice every day how to articulate their needs, solutions and ideas for a better future.
One young man, Obadiah, who was chosen for the Professional Internship Program and now for a junior staff position working with youth recently wrote to me:
The good thing about LIT program is that it doesn’t tell us what to do but shows us that we have potential to do important things. I learned that I am still useful to the people around me. It showed me that I can do something and be a leader everyway I am, that everyone is a leader not just the people ruling us. I did not bother taking action for the benefit of others but after attending the training I felt the importance of taking action for the benefit of others, valuing life of others matters, not just only myself. I am a different person now I can stand up for others, anywhere I see people mistreating others unfairly for example, and it has made me to care not only for myself but to also care about other people.
Another LIT graduate, who is a professional intern in the Hlotse Centre writes:
My scars remind me that I did indeed survive my deepest wounds. That in itself is an achievement. They bring to mind something else, too – that the damage life has inflicted on me has, in many places, left me stronger and more resilient. What hurt me in the past has actually made me better equipped to face the present.
My name is Rethabile Khasane from Mapoteng, aged 27, a very passionate young woman when it comes to change other people’s lives and helping them build resilience. As the eldest in a family of three children. I became a responsible young girl at the age of 12 when I was tasked with caring for my siblings after the death my mother and due to my father’s mental illness. We had to move from our home to my grandmother’s house. We faced so many challenges as it was a big family and our lives were horrible as my grandmother struggled to support us financially. Sometimes I had to help people with house-chores after school to get money for my soap and such and to provide for my sibling’s needs.
With God’s grace, I got sponsorship from World Vision to pursue my studies in secondary level. I worked very hard at school. I had to be strong for my younger brother and sister and to work very hard to achieve my goal of being a teacher and empowering other orphaned and vulnerable children. I consider myself a warrior because I have been through so many challenges throughout my life but I didn’t give up!
After completing my grade 12, I moved in with my aunt as her daughter since she didn’t have any but only two sons. My grandmother agreed, hoping things would get better in the family. I didn’t hesitate as she was promising to take care of my needs and my siblings as well. Things didn’t go that way. I became a domestic- worker in her family. I was vulnerable and helpless. I didn’t know what to do, but wait patiently for my grade 12 results to go to tertiary.
Fortunately, I got good results and was admitted at National University of Lesotho under Special Education Program. With the scholarship I got, I had to support grandmother and my younger brother and sister’s education since I was and still am the bread winner in the family.
After completing my Bachelor Degree, I went home to face the challenges of unemployment. My life was terrible. I needed help me but there was no one to nurture my vulnerable heart. Through this hardship journey, I didn’t forget to pray, I always trusted God to change my life at every obstacle I met.
My aunt, the same person I needed as a mother, the same person who promised to be there for me turned out to be a stranger to me. She pressured me to marry an older man I was not interested in, telling me that he can change my life and siblings’ lives. “You are now old, you don’t have work, you are struggling to survive in your family and if you can marry this man, your life will change. I don’t want to see you anymore in house if you refuse to marry him.’’
What a tragedy! I was not ready for marriage! I was only 25 and I didn’t think marriage could change my life anyhow. What I needed was parental love and a supportive family. I turned down her proposal and she furiously kicked me out of her house. I didn’t know what to do, my vulnerability made me to kneel down before her and asked for forgiveness on something that I didn’t want to do. She didn’t want me to apologize but to say yes to marriage proposal. I respected her so much, but I had to stand for myself and speak out for what I believed in. Even though I was struggling, marriage was not an option. I believed that I was strong enough to stand and change my life. I didn’t believe in men. I wanted to be a hard-working woman and support my siblings before I could commit myself in marriage. Ultimately, I wanted to marry someone I love when time is right, not someone I was forced to marry.
At that exact time, I was enrolled in Leaders in Training Program at Help Lesotho and I learned to understand things differently. I moved out of my relative’s home to find a place to live. I stayed at my friend’s place until I completed my training at Help Lesotho. I cried almost every day. I didn’t understand why all this happened to me. Fortunately, I was selected to be one of the professional Interns at Help Lesotho and I am proud to say this program has changed my life. I have managed to rent a place, to take care of myself and also to help my siblings needs with the stipend I get from Help Lesotho.
I would like to thank Dr. Peg Herbert for bringing Help Lesotho in our lives because many young girls and women are facing so many challenges concerning child, early and forced marriage. Help Lesotho is playing a crucial part to eradicate gender based violence. I have built a resilience, and through psychosocial support and the intensive training Help Lesotho equipped me with, I am capable to empower other young girls and women out there to make good decisions with their lives and to become resilient too.
I WILL pass it on!
And thus it happens – with your support – one valuable life at a time. … growing and then influencing hundreds more. That is what sustainable development looks like over time and from where I stand!
Thank you – Rea leboha haholo.
As Help Lesotho’s Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Peg Herbert spends at least two months a year living and working in Lesotho. As a Canadian exemplifying what good international development looks like, Peg shares her experiences through ‘Letters from Lesotho’ so we can all get a glimpse of what makes Lesotho such a special place.
If you would like to connect with Peg about her letters: